LIVE UPDATES: The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claims to have found out the names of dozens of militants from Russia who have gone to fight for ISIS, thanks to the arrest of an informant against one of them, Rashid Yevloyev, Kommersant reports.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
–The Non-Hybrid War
–Kashin Explains His âLetter to Leadersâ on âFontanka Officeâ
–TV Rain Interviews Volunteer Fighter Back from Donbass
–âI Was on Active Dutyâ: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
Russian communist party politicians may not know much about biology, but they appear to have propaganda covered pretty well.
Vadim Solovyov, a member of parliament in the State Duma, told the Russian press today that the latest deadly swine flu outbreak which has killed at least 50 people in Russia and more than 80 in Ukraine is a case of American “bacteriological war.” Chris Miller reports:
“This wave [of H1N1] came from Ukraine. And I don’t rule out that it was the Americans there who started this situation, launching such a war against our country,” Sovolyov said.
He called on Russia’s intelligence services, the health ministry and the Prosecutor General to investigate whether American agents intentionally spread the virus, as he claimed for years they had done in Cuba from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
Swine flu is caused by the H1N1 virus, not bacteria as Sovolyov claimed. This is, however, also not the first conspiracy theory about the source of the flu outbreak. As we reported yesterday, Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have been claiming that the outbreak is the result of an accidental release of the flu from a lab in Kharkiv. While Kharkiv has been heavily affected by the outbreak, it is fairing better than most other regions of Ukraine, though yesterday authorities ordered schools in that city to remain closed.
Steinmeier accused Russia of interfering in Germany’s internal affairs.
Yesterday, January 26, Foreign Minister Lavrov said at a press conference that relatives had confirmed that the 13-year-girl was kidnapped and raped by immigrants. He accused Germany of “patching over reality in domestic political affairs with political correctness,” DW reported.
Steinmeier said that German authorities were doing everything possible to investigate the claims.
“I can only advise Russian authorities to take into account the results of the investigation, DPA quoted Steinmeier as saying.
The German Foreign Ministry was due to provide the Russian ambassador in Berlin with all the necessary information about the case today, Steinmeier added, but provided no details.
–Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Pavlensky, an aktionist artist who stages political performances, is being transferred to the Serbsky Institute, OVD-Info, the police monitoring group, reported, citing a post by his wife, Olga Shalygina, on her Facebook page.
Shalygina said she did not learn this from doctors, but from the mother of a fellow inmate after she made a visit. Pavlensky is to be held for evaluation for 21 days. She has not been allowed to visit him but has sent him a food package.
In November, Pavlensky set the door of the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters known as the Lyubanka for the square where it is located, to protest increasing surveillance and persecution in Russia.
He was quickly arrested and charged with “vandalism” motivated by “ideological hatred” and put in a pre-trial investigation cell. The fire lit in the doorway was quickly extinguished.
The Serbsky Institute gained notoriety in the Soviet era as the place where forensic psychiatrists declared dissidents insane, although in many cases they were normal. Abuse of psychiatry has been returning to Russia, as Paul Goble reports in Windows on Eurasia.
Last week Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said opposition activists should be put in psychiatric hospitals and given injections of drugs.
When Pavlensky has been arrested for his artistic stunts in the past, he has either not been taken to a psychiatric hospital or has been declared sane and served jail terms.
In October 2015, he cut off his ear lobe while sitting on the wall of the Serbsky Institute to protest increasing numbers of cases of psychiatric abuse in Russia. That time he was first treated in a regular hospital, then declared sane after evaluation at a psychiatric clinic. A St. Petersburg court twice rejected appeals to incarcerate him.
This time, the outcome is uncertain; he is “between pathology and crime,” his wife commented.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The protesters said they are seeking a meeting with officials from DeltaKredit to restructure their mortgages but have been rebuffed.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
“Ask the doctors what will happen usually with a person who is simply grabbed by the hand; the maximum would be a bruise. Yet his whole arm was swollen.”
“No matter what diseases he had, it’s still strange that he sustained the traumas not on the street, not at somebody’s house at some drunken party, but at the police station in fact. If we had the ability to have some kind of objective investigation by the prosecutor, I am confident that it should definitely be conducted. Because many police, unfortunately, suffer burn-out at work and they themselves don’t notice how they become brutal.”
The Russian Ebola Project reports that deaths in police custody are all too common and estimate that they occur almost daily. The Daily Dot and Global Voices recently covered the work of Russian Ebola Project which took its name to describe an “epidemic” of such beatings in jails. They reported 197 deaths in custody in 2015.
The Investigative Committee is now conducting a check of the 44th precinct. As the Investigative Committee has been accused of covering up crimes by police and prosecutors in the past, there is some skepticism that the investigation will be objective.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
A source close to the investigation told Kommersant that the person who has given testimony against Yevloyev is a certain “Islambek,” last name not provided, who was said to be a fighter for Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, a jihadist group made up of Arabs active in fighting the Syrian government. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US and Canada.
This is the group said to be joined by many Chechens from Russia; it is said to be the main recipient of “green corridor” militants channeled from the North Caucasus to Syria, according to research by Natalya Milashina of Novaya Gazeta cited in an article by The Interpreter’s editor-in-chief Michael Weiss.
Islambek said he himself joined Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar in February 2013 after flying to Istanbul and then making his way to Haritan to a Caucasus Emirate camp commanded by Feyzulla Margoshvili, a fighter from the Pankisi Valley in Georgy who used the name Salakh ash-Shishani. He said there were 1,500 fighters from Russia at the camp, equipped not only with small arms, grenade-launchers, 23-mm anti-aircraft artillery but also the Igla and Strela surface-to-air missile systems.
(This appears to be the source for the FSB’s claim throughout 2014 that there were “1,700” fighters from Russia with ISIS; this was later increased to 2,700.)
Islambek said the fighters lived in multi-story dwellings in groups of 30 to 100, divided up by ethnicity or “profession.” So there were buildings for Dagestanis from the village of Gimri, Azeris, and Crimeans as well as for spetsnaz and explosives experts, said Kommersant.
According to Open Russia, Yevloyev’s father, Aslan Yevloyev, an Ingush, is a former policeman from the village of Mayskoye in Prigorodny District of North Ossetia. He believes his son is innocent. He came to Moscow to hire a lawyer, and said Investigator Yastrebov from the FSB’s investigative department would not allow the lawyer to examine the case. Aslan said he is determined not to leave Moscow until the lawyer gains access to the case files.
Aslan said that when his son graduated from law school in 2013, he was unable to find work in his home town so he decided to go to Turkey to study Arabic. Within two weeks, FSB agents were visiting him and claiming his son was fighting in Syria. His father gave the agents his mobile phone number in Istanbul and said the FSB could call him and verify where he was. The agent called his son in his presence, and it seemed they were satisfied.
But a month later, Aslan and his wife were called in for interrogation by the FSB and urged to bring their son home; he was supposedly seen in Syria. The FSB agents said they would find him a job. But if he didn’t return, they would open up a criminal case against him on charges of involvement in terrorist activity.
The agents intimidated the parents, saying a fighter had already recognized him from a photograph and testified that he was fighting with ISIS in Syria. He said he had receipts showing that his son had purchased sheets in Turkey from a small family store and sent them to his parents, but the FSB didn’t want to look at his evidence, they just wanted him to get his son to return home. The Interpreter was unable to find a reliable photograph of Yevloyev.
Aslan believes that informants in the village give information to the FSB that may be untrue. He finds it hard to believe that his son would go to the trouble to purchase sheets in a little store in Istanbul in order to deceive him, while supposedly fighting in Syria. The father noted that there were tensions, as there have been historically, in Prigorodny District between Ingush and Ossetians. He and his family were Ingush, and the FSB agents were Ossetians. He said he had advised his son to seek political asylum in Germany.
An English-language summary of the January 26 Kommersant article by Meduza failed to mention the claims of Yevloyev’s innocence by his lawyer and family, nor to cite his own account.
An English-language version of another Kommersant article on arrested Islamist militants, dated October 15, 2015, claimed that Yevloyev’s parents said he was “about to receive an Islamic education” and “went to a camp in Aleppo, joining others form the South Caucasus for combat training.”
In fact, the original Russian story doesn’t cite the parents, but says “according to Kommersant‘s information” and makes the claim that Yevloyev himself told his parents the story about Islamic education and Aleppo — although Kommersant changed that account in the January 26 article. Kommersant notes in the January 26 article that Yevloyev’s lawyer said he had not given such testimony.
Another Kommersant story dated October 2 by Nikolai Sergeyev about Yevloyev’s extradition cited his father as saying he wanted to obtain an Islamic education but his family did not have the funds for it, so friends helped him to go to Turkey. Kommersant said his father claimed he stopped answering mobile phone calls after that — although Open Russia described the father as calling his son even in the presence of an FSB agent. In this version of the story, Yevloyev fought against Assad but but after his group suffered their first losses, he fled from the combat zone and made his way to Germany. On that basis, the FSB did not charge him with participation in ISIS, as he left voluntarily, but charged him with obtaining knowledge of explosives with the purpose of committing a terrorist attack in Russia, for which he faces from 15-20 years of prison.
This criminal code article provides for the charges to be dropped if the suspect cooperates with investigators and provides them information about other persons who were trained by terrorist or organized or financed them; this is the option that the informant Islambek was said to avail himself of.
Kommersant said that “in the last 18 months, Russian courts have issued sentences to a dozen graduates of the Caucasus camp.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick